Is Your Fitness “Expert” an Expert or Just Full of Sh*t? Here’s How to Tell

Is Your Fitness “Expert” an Expert or Just Full of Sh*t? Here’s How to Tell

Editor’s note: Everyone’s a fitness expert these days…or so it might seem when scrolling through your social feeds loaded with “detoxes” and “cleanses.” But beyond the fake fitness news, alternative nutrition facts, and stage-managed social image crafting, what IS an expert anyway? A real expert who actually knows what they’re talking about. Who CAN you trust? Who SHOULD you trust?

In this guest post by Dan Jolley, MSc, professional strength and conditioning coach and doctoral researcher studying the fitness industry, he discusses personal training qualifications, knowledge, and what it truly means to be an expert. Will the real fitness experts please stand up!

Over to you Dan!
Bill


Before I start, I’ll preface my comments by saying that I come from a personal training background and by no means is this article a “hit job” on the entire industry or all personal trainers. It is, however, a warning shot across the bow of those who, with a little knowledge, think they’re experts on everything. Bad information promoted by the “experts” serves to undermine responsible public health messages, makes a joke of personal trainers, and further erodes the reputation of the fitness industry. So the purpose of this article is to call bullsh*t on the “experts” and encourage you to use critical thinking when seeking out reliable health and fitness information.

The fitness industry in recent years has been changing at a breakneck pace.

Some of this change has been for the better – public parks have outdoor exercise equipment, group exercise options have increased, some gyms are now paying attention to the benefit of social support for exercise adherence, and the recent proliferation of barbells, lifting platforms, and free weights warms the heart of a grizzled old athlete and coach like myself.

But there have also been changes which have made things downright confusing for people looking for good quality information.

How Do We Find Reliable Information?

The internet opened the flood gates and democratised the flow of information and, though information is far more accessible now than it was only a decade ago, the quality of this information varies greatly.

In fact, much of the health, fitness, and nutrition information found online is simply not trustworthy.  Most people tend to assess the quality of online information based on cognitive shortcuts known as “heuristics” (i.e., “hmm, this sounds intuitively logical to me, so therefore it must be true”), rather than a detailed examination of the quality of the information. And fair enough, it’s hard to know better if you don’t have a relevant science qualification! So how can you know what to trust?

Many people will look for someone who can interpret this information for them (and if you’re reading this article then, congratulations, you’ve already found an excellent resource in this site!)

But for many truth seekers, a highly accessible source of information is their personal trainer, the big guy who’s always at the gym, or the attractive girl that posts about nutrition on Instagram. Some of these people will even call themselves (or brand themselves) as “experts” or “gurus.”

fake health fitness expert

Figure 1- This man may be a fitness expert, but you certainly can’t tell from the information provided here. But as you can see, he is a popular source of information!

We’ve Seen How This Goes Wrong!

So just how trustworthy ARE these self-proclaimed health “experts”? Some recent controversies offer some clues.

Famously, there was Belle Gibson, the health blogger with no science qualifications who made false claims about having multiple cancers and “treating” them through nutrition. Her lies netted her a large amount of money which she has yet to repay despite a court order. For a fascinating read on this case, I can recommend the book The Woman Who Fooled The World by Nick Toscano.

More recently, blogger Olivia Budgen made the news for insensitive claims about cancer, then was rightly criticised on this very site for her attempted apology (sorry, not sorry). Olivia provides a great resource when she just sticks to posting recipe ideas. She has made an effort to improve the quality of her advice in recent times, providing references for her claims, and clear disclaimers in response to criticism from myself and others.

But Olivia does not appear to have any relevant health qualification (I’ve asked her about this in previous communication). She cherry picks evidence to support her opinions about the proposed health benefits of certain foods then extrapolates these findings too far.

Sometimes bad “expert” advice has potential to cause harm or even death. In 2015, Chef Pete Evans, despite having no tertiary health qualifications, drew widespread condemnation from public health professionals after releasing a cookbook for mums and babies with a DIY baby formula which contained 4.5 times the maximum vitamin A dose for a baby.

Be sure to check out Dr Tim Crowe’s excellent parody of dubious online health claims.

Fitness Gets It Wrong Too!

In the personal training world in the last 5 to 10 years, I’ve observed a trend of trainers programming and encouraging higher training intensities. This may take the form of hard intervals with heavily loaded sleds, battle ropes, or high volumes of plyometric exercise (bounding, jumping, etc.). And the assumption seems to be that everyone can benefit from this intensity regardless of whether they have a weight loss goal, a general fitness goal, or a more specific performance goal.

In fact, I’ve met trainers who are dismissive of steady state running (i.e. jogging) to assist in weight loss (or develop general fitness) despite the fact that the type of adaptation you receive from both resistance training and cardio training depends heavily on variables such as intensity and volume.

Research shows that short, very high intensity sessions may not achieve the best results for your needs, and tend to result in poorer exercise adherence. These “experts” also seem to be unaware that a well-developed aerobic fitness base (yes, even with low intensity running) can in fact improve your ability to recover between high intensity efforts.

As I mentioned in my CrossFit review on this site, as a coach, I program very different training to achieve different adaptations for different people. Furthermore, high intensity sessions may be contraindicated in those with multiple cardiac risk factors (which opens up a completely different discussion on the importance of pre-exercise risk stratification).

High Intensity Exercise - health fitness expert

Figure 2- high intensity alternatives to running are currently very popular, but don’t always provide the best result for your investment of time and effort.

But My Trainer Seems To Know…

So there’s a lot of questionable, if not bad, information out there, especially online, but aren’t fitness professionals trustworthy sources of information? Shouldn’t we be able to assume the personal trainer at your local gym is a helpful source of safe, effective advice?

Sometimes yes, but not always.

Over the last 15 years, a growing body of research has consistently demonstrated that personal trainers possess errors in their factual knowledge base (and sometimes serious errors in knowledge which I have discussed in a previous article). But even more concerning is the fact that, despite knowledge gaps, personal trainers tends to possess high levels of confidence in their knowledge.

Thorough interviews with personal trainers have shown that trainers tend to value on-the-job experience and mentoring from other professionals more than formal qualifications.

While these can certainly be valuable tools for professional development, recent Australian research showed that only about half of personal trainers used reliable sources of information (i.e., science journals, science text books).

So to summarise the research, we have a large proportion of personal trainers with:

  • potentially poor knowledge;
  • high levels of confidence;
  • little appreciation for qualifications; and
  • who rely on unreliable sources

What Qualifications Do Experts Have?

What qualifications do these “fitness experts” possess? Some of the better ones may have a relevant health science university degree. Many others will possess a personal training qualification (a Certificate IV in Fitness), which is the minimum entry level qualification required to gain accreditation with Fitness Australia. And some will possess nothing more than a blindingly white smile and a few years banging weights around the gym.

I’m in my 22nd year of study and/or work in the fitness industry and am working on my 3rd (and hopefully last) degree. But if I relied on this experience as an argument for why my opinion should be accepted without question, I would be committing an appeal to authority fallacy. (i.e., “take my word for it because I have degrees”).

In fact, it is all my years of work experience and university study that have given me an immense respect and humble appreciation for established evidence (as opposed to “bro science”). My education has taught me that, whilst I’ve learnt a lot along the way, there’s still so much MORE that I have yet to learn!

You will rarely see any of the advice I give to clients, students, or colleagues directly contradict the established science on a topic, and certainly not without copious amounts of high quality evidence to support my alternative claims.

Yes, science is always evolving and we must keep an open mind about new exercise and nutrition research, but not so open that our brains fall out and we become mouth pieces for pseudoscience and quackery. We must demand evidence over opinions no matter who is spouting off the latest greatest exercise or nutrition “breakthrough.”

A Common Example

Many self-styled “experts” are quick to dismiss heavily researched exercise and nutrition guidelines, which may not be consistent with popular fitness and nutrition trends (i.e., “detoxes” and “superfoods”). The argument is often this: “These nutrition guidelines have been around for a long time and yet people are getting fatter and fatter…therefore the guidelines are wrong.”

And they are partially correct, according to government statistics, obesity rates ARE on the rise. But the assumption that obesity rates continue to increase because of these guidelines is flawed. Assuming a cause and effect relationship from a mere association is a rookie mistake for any aspiring critical thinker.

spurious correlations

Figure 3- A good reminder that although somethings occur at the same time, or with one following the other, there is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship. Source: http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

In fact, the rising obesity rates are not because people are following these guidelines, but because they’re NOT following them. National Health Survey data shows us that very few people actually achieve the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diet, instead choosing more energy dense options (i.e., burgers, chips, and fizzy drinks).

On top of that, people are not meeting the physical activity recommendations, with just over 50% self-reporting sufficient exercise.

Some of these “experts” also attack these guidelines for encouraging diets high in refined sugars but, in fact, guideline #3 specifically mentions limiting added sugars in the diet.

dietary guidelines

But Criticism Is Welcome

I need to state this clearly here: NO ideas are beyond criticism. We rightly SHOULD question exercise prescription and healthy eating guidelines. And we do, regularly.

In fact, in 2012 the physical activity recommendations in Australia were changed to increase the volume of recommended exercise, with specific mention of limiting screen time. The Australian Dietary Guidelines were updated in 2013 to: 1) increase their focus on maintaining an appropriate energy balance; and 2) reflect changing evidence about risks, and benefits, associated with consumption certain foods.

These changes are informed by mountains of evidence. Hundreds of scientific journal articles, each representing months or years of work by multiple scientists, are considered when these changes are made. And each article is carefully read and criticised by other scientists, multiple times, until they are considered worthy of publication. They are, in short, extraordinarily well-informed documents, designed to provide safe, effective advice to the majority of the population.

What Does Your “Expert” Think?

Now we get to the crux of the issue. What does your exercise or nutrition “expert” think of something as fundamental as healthy eating or physical activity advice? Do they dismiss these guidelines as irrelevant, out of date, or paid off by industry groups or “big pharma?”

There’s no doubt that we could find issues with individual pieces of evidence that inform these guidelines or even the motives of lobbyist groups, but to dismiss the whole body of research because of some cherry-picked examples that suit an argument is not rational.

That would be like throwing out everything we know about the effectiveness of vaccination because one piece of research by a now disgraced researcher with undisclosed conflicts of interest suggested vaccines were linked with autism… and as we know, that would never happen. Wait. Never mind.

There’s also no doubt that these recommendations do not apply to everyone. They are designed to be general, and simple enough, to apply to the vast majority of the population.

Certainly if you have medical issues, cultural preferences, or performance requirements, your needs may differ, and you should seek more specific advice.

Is Your “Expert” An Actual Expert?

Does your “expert”:

  1. Dismiss high quality research evidence, preferring their personal anecdotes, case studies, or one or two selected pieces of evidence? They are not an expert.
  2. Make alternative claims and/or promote questionable products and services (i.e., detoxes, cleanses, fat burning supplements) without providing any compelling body of supporting evidence? They are not an expert.
  3. Make judgements about the quality of scientific research, without holding a research qualification in a relevant field to be able to even read and understand the said research? They are not an expert.
  4. Use unreliable sources of information such as blogs, social media sites/apps, and websites that do not have clear author and reference information? They are not an expert.

Christopher Hitchens once said “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” So your fitness or nutrition “expert” making an extravagant or controversial claim is no more deserving to be taken seriously than a flat earth proponent, anti-vaccination campaigner, or notorious Hollywood woo peddler Gwyneth Paltrow.

Show this article to your trainer and pay attention to their response. Are they dismissive of my support for established evidence? Ask why and, specifically, which evidence informs their opinions. Making a claim that contradicts established evidence carries quite a burden of proof!

Or do they claim that they are different because their years of experience mean they know more than younger trainers? This is not a strong claim. In fact, it is the same appeal to authority I was careful to avoid earlier. Early results from my doctoral research show that years of experience as a personal trainer have no impact on the knowledge personal trainers possess, but their level of education does.

To Sum It All Up

There is a growing body of evidence that many personal trainers use highly variable sources of information, and many also have inadequate knowledge about fundamental nutrition and exercise concepts. So choose your trainer wisely.

Pick someone who operates within their scope of practice, is humble about their knowledge, is prepared to adjust their opinion in the face of changing evidence, and who recognises that a Certificate IV in Fitness alone does not make them a “guru” or “expert” in any field of knowledge.

Yes, a trainer can be a great person and an excellent, highly skilled practitioner, but that does not make him/her an “expert.” And neither, for that matter, does a million Instagram followers.

Permanent Fat Loss Principles: The “Secret” is No Secret

Permanent Fat Loss Principles: The “Secret” is No Secret

Though you trudge away on the treadmill and scrape by on seeds and sprouts, the bathroom scale refuses to budge. But actually, the formula for fat loss is quite simple.

Self-proclaimed health “experts” and hokey fitness gimmick infomercial hosts promise you can cull the kilos (or pare away the pounds) by exercising only three minutes a day.

Then there’s the fine print: Losing “weight” is easy.   LOSING FAT and keeping it off can be downright difficult.  But don’t despair; there is hope! Arm yourself with these fat trimming lifestyle tips and keep it off for life!

Fat Loss Principles For Life

1) Banish Your Bathroom Scale

First things first: banish your bathroom scale and only take it out once every other week.  It is your fat loss foe! It is a traitor that will deceive you (unless you know how to keep it in line).

The media, food companies, and woo-pushing quacks have brainwashed everyone to focus on “weight loss” instead of FAT LOSS with little to no consideration for body composition. This sells products, but it’s the wrong message.

Anyone can “lose weight” by starving themselves on a fad diet but, while you might seemingly “lose weight” on the scale in the beginning, this is not fat loss. It’s mostly glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the muscle), water, muscle, and maybe a little fat.

And guzzling a so-called “skinny teatox” loaded with laxatives and diuretics might fool you into thinking you’ve lost fat, but you’ll quickly regain the water and fecal weight as soon as you stop using it.


2) Buy Into Body Composition, Not Just Body Weight

Exercise. Focus on building and maintaining valuable muscle. Muscle is very metabolically active and pays a higher caloric “rent” to sustain itself (even at rest). Fat tissue, on the other hand, is something of a metabolic freeloader which burns comparatively fewer calories.

If after a few months your scale weight hasn’t changed much, you might notice that your clothes fit better.  This is usually a result of an increase in muscle and decrease in fat.

Have a look and compare these two cross sectional thigh scans.

thigh_with_fatthigh_with_fat2The first image shows a strong dense muscle with minimal fat penetrating into the muscle.  The second image shows a weak, wasting muscle which is infiltrated with fat.  The overall surface area is similar, but you can see the drastic difference in composition.

3) Don’t Trust Fibbing Exercise Machines 

Ever seen those “fat burning” or “cardio” buttons on treadmills and stationary bikes?  The irony is the so-called “fat burning” button can keep you fat and the cardio button will help trim your gut and butt.  This is where it gets confusing so pay attention.

In the image below, you can see that a lower intensity (lower VO2) burns proportionally more fat as a fuel source during exercise (fat burn button). The trade off is that you also burn less overall calories per unit of time compared to higher intensities.

At higher exercise intensities (cardio button), you burn more carbohydrate (sugar) as a fuel source (blue dots in the image), but you burn more calories per unit of time.

cho_percentages

Comparing apples to apples, if you did 10 minutes on the treadmill on the low-intensity fat loss setting versus 10 minutes on the the higher-intensity cardio setting, you’d actually be better served by the cardio setting.

Independent of the fuel source during exercise, your overall energy (calorie) expenditure is higher. The energy deficit created by exercise is later justified by the body pulling fat out of storage (even when not exercising).

In the long-term, you are served much better by exercising at higher intensities per unit of time and maximizing the energy burn than focusing on which fuel source you’re using during exercise.   The overall CUMULATIVE calorie deficit is what matters and that’s what’s going to have you looking good for the long haul!

If you’re new to exercise and out of shape, then you may need to start off at a slow pace in order to allow your body to adapt.  Progress slowly and work up to higher intensities over time to maximise intensity to enhance energy expenditure.

4) Build Your Fitness Foundation

Following on from above, if you’re completely new to exercise, develop your fitness foundation slowly and gradually progress to higher intensities. Doing too much too soon may leave you sore and discourage you from continuing. Check out my 10 quick tips to get off the exercise rollercoaster and set your fitness foundation in stone.

Start off at a leisurely pace on the bike or treadmill for no more than 20 minutes and do this 3 to 4 days per week.

Depending on how you feel, increase your duration by 5-10 minutes per session each week until you can do 45-60 minutes of non-stop cardio exercise.


5) Integrate Intense Intervals

With your fitness foundation in place, start cranking up the intensity by integrating intervals into your routine (this is key for fat loss). Intervals are higher intensity bursts interspersed within your cardio routine designed to raise your heart rate and crank up the calorie burning control knob.

During your cardio exercise, start off with 1 to 2-minute high intensity bursts and then give yourself 3-4 minutes of active recovery at a lower intensity (keep walking or pedaling).

Perform your intervals at an intensity high enough that you can barely speak to the person next to you, preferably an exercise partner who shares your same fat loss goals.

6) Work Up to High Intensity For Longer

Once you’ve established your fitness foundation and incorporated intervals into your regimen, try to maintain higher intensities for longer durations.  The longer you maintain the higher intensities, the more energy you burn, the more fat you pull out of storage, and the greater your overall fat loss.

7) Lift Weights (or Body Weight). Muscle = Metabolism

Muscle is the machinery that drives your metabolism.  Resistance training is known to enhance muscle size, structure, and function all of which cause a cascade of health benefits.  It doesn’t mean that you need to grunt and groan amongst bespandexed gym gorillas.

Many of the fitness boot camps leverage on calisthenic style exercises which mostly use body weight for resistance.  Muscles don’t have eyes.  As long as you’re stressing your muscles at a level above and beyond that which they’re normally accustomed, you can expect improvements in your appearance and, of course, your metabolic health.

8) Focus on Small Changes For Big Improvements

Avoid radical changes in your diet, as this only sets you up for failure.  Focus instead on making tiny nutrition changes you can live with.  For example, try cutting down on soda, chips, and sweets.

If you drink a liter per day, wean your way down to 500 milliliters, then to 250, and eventually to water.  One little change can translate to big changes in both scale weight and appearance over the long haul.

If you consume 250 calories less and expend 250 calories more with exercise each day, over one calendar year you’d could plausibly strip off about 23 kilograms (50 pounds) of body fat.

Obviously the actual amount of fat loss will vary due to inter-individual differences in genes, habits, and behavioral considerations (see my article: Obesity Genes: Does your DNA predict Body Fat and Weight?).  Small changes are important because they minimise the “famine response” and keep you off the exercise rollercoaster (and then some). As a general rule, healthy FAT LOSS is approximately 1 – 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kg) per week.

9) “Incidentally Speaking,” Waste Energy with Incidental Activity

The emerging science of inactivity physiology shows that we need to be as inefficient as humanly possible as often as possible.

  • Waste energy at all times of the day outside of your structured exercise sessions.
  • Avoid life’s shortcuts.
  • Nix the elevators. Opt for the stairs.
  • Walk up those steep hills.
  • Take public transit and weigh yourself down with a laptop case or backpack.
  • Use a handbasket at the supermarket instead of a trolley (shopping cart).
  • Use a standing workstation instead of a sit-down desk.

The more energy you blow throughout the day, the greater your overall fat loss.  Every little bit counts and it all contributes to the “bottom line.”


10) Buddy Up

Sure, misery loves company, but so does exercise!  Identify your supporters and saboteurs.   Avoid the saboteurs who will attempt to undermine and derail your efforts out of jealousy.   Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who will either exercise with you on your journey or play the role of cheerleader!  It may also be helpful to join online support networks which will allow you to share your experience with other like-minded people who may be going through the same thing.

11) Make it Fun

It’s the age-old question: What’s the best exercise in the world?  The one you LIKE and the one you’ll do on a regular basis!  I see lots of trainers and exercisers alike debating over which exercise is best, but when it comes right down to it, you just need to find something that will make you more active.   If you like to walk, then walk.  If you like to ride your bike around the neighborhood, then ride your bike.  As mentioned above, intersperse some intervals to crank up the calorie burning control knob!

12) Unfriend the Media

The media is NOT your friend.  Cancel your cable TV subscription or at least stop watching it 20 hours per week. Nix the fluffy celebrity gossip magazines. These types of publications are loaded with unrealistic body images that are merely airbrushed photos meant to provide false hope and sell copies.

13) Fire Your Health Guru

The popularity of social media has led to rampant proliferation of self-styled “health gurus” like the so-called Food Babe and David “Avocado” Wolfe, both of whom have gone down in flames for making outlandish claims with no health science training.

While we all want to believe claims that health nirvana is just one miracle diet, supplement, or infomercial gadget away, the grim reality is that none of this works.

Guru promises of simple solutions to complex problems will likely leave you with complex problems without simple solutions. While not always a guarantee, checking for university qualifications in a health science can increase your chances of getting reliable information that will help you adopt a healthy lifestyle for life.

DRUM ROLL…… THE SECRET TO PERMANENT FAT LOSS

In all my years as a diet and exercise professional, I can tell you one thing with absolute unequivocal certainty: the secret to permanent fat loss is that THERE IS NO SECRET.

Every client I’ve worked with who has lost weight and kept it off did not rely on slimming wraps (i.e., It Works body wraps). They simply committed themselves to a healthy lifestyle and then stuck with it for the long term. Thing is, we’ve known it all along.

Even the ancient Greeks knew it.  Hippocrates is quoted as saying, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

More recent evidence of this can be found on Dr. Rena Wing’s National Weight Control Registry at the University of Rhode Island.

As much as we’d all like to believe in “wishful shrinking,” miracle diets, pills, powders, and infomercial gadgets do not work.  If they did we’d all be thin by now!

Bottom line:  consistency in doing the right thing will always win out over quick-fix fad diets and gimmicks.  Stay the course!  

Want to Lose Weight and Be Healthy? Then Stop Chasing Golden Unicorns!

Want to Lose Weight and Be Healthy? Then Stop Chasing Golden Unicorns!

Want to lose weight? Eat healthier? Feel better? Have more energy?

Of course you do.

But if you’re looking for that elusive golden unicorn that pisses diamonds and farts rose petals, you’re not going to find it in a bullsh*t infomercial gadget, miracle diet, “teatox,” body wrap, or Instagram muppet.

You know what I mean. You bounce from one fad diet to the next, buy every infomercial gadget, and gulp down “metabolism boosters” and “fat burner” supplements, hoping that maybe, just maybe, THIS one is REALLY going to work….which it never does.

Still with me?

I know, it’s tough to think otherwise when your social feeds are overflowing with self-proclaimed “celebrity” nutritionistspersonal trainers, and health coaches spruiking the next latest greatest pill, diet, or exercise routine.

“Revolutionary thermogenic formula! Optimised macros! Dynamic inertia! Gyrotronic resistance! 28 day fat blaster challenge! 5 minute abs!”

Convincing?

Yeah, because that’s what health marketing does. It misrepresents science, celebrates the mundane, and embellishes barely legal marketing claims to sell you sh*t you really don’t need.

Two words: golden unicorn.

The secret to health is no secret

Want a real golden unicorn that DOES work and is evidence-based?

Granted it’s not sexy, but you’ll find it in the age-old scientifically proven advice your sage grandfather might have given you:

Golden Unicorn - Diet Exercise Research Summary

Click on image to visit Dr Bill Sukala’s Facebook Page

Beware the golden unicorn salesman

There is no limit to the useless sh*t marketers will try to sell you and the lengths they will go to accomplish that end.

And guess what? In their eyes, you’re the easy mark. The low hanging fruit. You’re the sucker and your wallet is their target.

Their mantra is always the same: “whatever people are buying, I’m selling.”

Their business is money. Their storefront is health, fitness, nutrition, or whatever.

Do they actually care about your health?

Unlikely.

Can they really be bothered to think about your health when they’re too busy counting cash grifted from gullible people desperate to believe in elusive golden unicorns pissing diamonds?

Ethics? Huh? Wha…?

Sure, they’ll use lame apologetic excuses like “well hey, anything that gets people off the couch is a good thing, right?

Uh huh. Yeah, sure buddy. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

Species of golden unicorns

As you have seen, there are a variety of golden unicorn species out there and the only way to protect yourself is to know and understand their natural habitat and behaviour.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but will prepare you for when you come face to face with some of the more common diamond-pissing golden beasts.

Bullshiticus infomercialis golden unicornius

Infomercials. The scourge of late night TV – and now social media.

They come with fancy names like the Ab Circle ProAb WaveSpinGym, and Shake Weight.

You know the rest.

Don’t delayLose weight NOW for the incredibly low price of $199.95! That’s right, just $199.95 for the BODY OF YOUR DREAMS! But WAIT! That’s not all you get! Act now and we’ll throw in a golden unicorn pissing diamonds!

Back in 2010, I authored a comprehensive review of the Ab Circle Pro‘s deceptive advertising.

I was so viscerally furious about the sheer number of false and misleading claims, I transcribed the entire 10-minute infomercial and then categorically dismantled each claim through the lens of exercise science.

The article generated a lot of buzz in the media and resulted in my being interviewed by a number of international TV and radio stations, as well as print and digital publications.

The regulatory agencies eventually caught up with the Ab Circle Pro in Australia and New Zealand and forced them to amend their ads for making deceptive claims (i.e., if “results are not typical” then they’re misleading).

The final coup de grâce came in August of 2012 when the US Federal Trade Commission fined the company $25 million for making false claims, which contributed to the company going out of business.

The moral of the story is that the Ab Circle Pro is not unique and is only one drop in an ocean of dodgy infomercial products.

They all use the same regurgitated formulaic advertising (i.e., hammer on your pain points and insecurities, make grandiose promises, feature hired fitness models who’ve never used the product, add in weepy overacted “testimonials,” and repeated calls to action to buy now!) over and over and over again.

Why? Because it works.

When one golden unicorn runs it’s marketing cycle, the makers recycle the same tactics and invent a “new and revolutionary” golden unicorn.

And the end result is always the same. You’re lighter in the wallet, fatter than you were before, and the ab blaster piece of sh*t ends up on your sidewalk waiting for Tuesday morning garbage collection.

Golden Unicorn - Infomercial Ab Blaster

Click image to visit Dr Bill Sukala on Facebook

Bottom line

Golden unicorn infomercial pushers are bottom-dwelling scum who cannot sell their wares by honest means. Please do NOT be just another gullible sucker falling into their sales funnels. You are a dollar sign to them, nothing more, nothing less.

Bullshiticus miraculus dietes golden unicornius 

Bullsh*t diets have been around for centuries and, like infomercials, there’s no limit to the variety of names or wacky regimens.

How do you know if the diet you’re following is a golden unicorn?

Nine times out of ten, its name fits this syntax:  The  _____  Diet.

Here, let’s take a look at some real diet Hall of Shamers.

  • The HCG Diet
  • The Cabbage Soup Diet
  • The Grapefruit Diet
  • The Alkaline Diet
  • The Blood Type Diet

Tried any of these?

Did you lose weight?

Of course you did.

Losing weight is easy when you starve yourself on 500 calories or less per day.

How long did you last on the diet?

One week? Two weeks? Maybe you ran the gauntlet and lasted a full month. Bravo.

Then what happened?

You eventually said “f*ck this, it’s too hard.” You threw in the towel, went out for a burger, and then scolded yourself for being a failure.

But here’s the thing: you didn’t actually fail the diet. The diet failed you!

When you go from eating 3000 calories down to 500 calories or less per day, your body’s internal physiology and biochemistry goes, “sweet baaaaby Jesus, the famine has arrived!!

When a fad diet has you eating 500 calories or less per day, your body's internal physiology goes, 'sweet baaaby Jesus, the famine's arrived!' & will do everything it can to conserve energy & protect fat stores Click To Tweet

Thing is, your body is a lot smarter than any fad diet that ever was or ever will be. You see, your body has a built-in famine response mode to protect you from yourself and idiotic diets.

You might think you’re speeding up your metabolism but, contrary to your wishes, starving yourself actually slows down your metabolism. Your body wants to conserve as much energy as possible, which includes holding onto valuable life-sustaining body fat, because it has no idea how long this famine is going to last.

You might be thinking, “well, wait a minute. How come I lost weight if my body is holding onto fat? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

It’s because you didn’t lose fat, or not that much anyway.

One of the first things you lose on a starvation diet is your muscle glycogen and the water bound to it.

*Glycogen is just a fancy name for stored carbohydrate. It’s stored mainly in your muscles and your liver. (FYI, if you’re scared sh*tless of carbs, read my article Carbohysteria).*

Next, your body begins to break down it’s muscle tissue. This is bad – really bad.

Muscle is your body’s rock star tissue. Muscle is metabolically active and burns more calories than fat tissue per equivalent weight. In other words, it pays a higher metabolic rent in the body to earn its keep.

Not only that, muscle, particularly well-conditioned muscle from regular exercise, protects you from things like heart disease and diabetes by effectively siphoning sugar and fat from your bloodstream and burning it for energy (instead of floating around your body where it can wreak havoc).

Rule: muscle good. No muscle bad.

Fat tissue, on the other hand, is something of a metabolic freeloader… but in a benevolent tough love sort of way. It’s a rich source of valuable energy and burns comparatively fewer calories to earn its keep in the body – which is valuable for keeping you alive during a real famine or prolonged stupid diet.

If you’re starving yourself while on a high protein diet, then you might lose even more weight from peeing out all the excess nitrogen.

paleo diet, mediterranean diet - golden unicorn

If you go into ketosis, then it’s going to be tough (REALLY tough!) to stay on the diet for any length of time because ketones are sort of your DEFCON 1 emergency fuel. Eventually you’ll collapse or get tired of having disgusting smelling breath.

*FYI, check out my related article Fat Burns in the Flame of Carbohydrate

After several weeks of starving yourself on The Golden Unicorn Diet, yes, you may have “lost weight” on the scale, but you definitely haven’t lost as much fat as you think you did.

Tale of the DEXA scan

Last year, I ran before and after DEXA scans on a couple that was doing a so-called “weight loss challenge” at their local gym. They told me they were on a high-protein diet and were exercising six to seven days per week.

When they came back in for their follow-up scans six weeks later, they were smugly bragging about how much “weight” they lost, but the DEXA scan showed them the ACTUAL COMPOSITION of that weight loss.

They each lost a TRUCKLOAD of muscle and, to their astonishment, a comparatively small amount of fat. In fact, because they lost so much muscle, their body fat percentages had actually gone up!

And they were worse off for it because they had lost so much valuable metabolism-stoking muscle.

So what happened? They were under-eating, over-training, and under-recovering.

Bottom line

Focus on slow steady FAT LOSS instead of nebulous golden unicorn goals like “losing weight” or “getting results.” Steer clear of popular diets your friend Britney and Aunt Gertrude are doing and arm yourself with these 13 principles for safe, effective, and permanent fat loss.

Bullshiticus teatoxium golden unicornius 

The market is flooded with all kinds of “teatoxes” which come with all kinds of outlandish health claims.

But what gives? Can you REALLY “detox” yourself into “losing weight” or “cutting the bloat?”

No. It’s physiologically impossible.

It’s not possible because it’s not “toxins” that are causing you to be overweight in the first place.

But you might argue, “What do you mean? I ‘lost weight‘ on a ‘teatox.'”

In my Skinny Teatox and SkinnyMint Teatox review articles, I point out that these types of products are, in actual fact, nothing more than exorbitantly overpriced diuretics and laxatives.

skinny teatox review

Get ready to piss and sh*t….a lot…because you and your toilet are about to become good friends again (like back in your university days, downing 11 beers, 5 tequila shots, and a bottle of chardonnay every Friday night).

In an article on Science-Based Medicine, Scott Gavura eloquently provides a real definition for detox:

“Detox” is a legitimate medical term that has been co-opted to sell useless products and services. It is a fake treatment for a fake condition. Real detoxification isn’t ordered from a menu at a juice bar, or assembled from supplies in your pantry. Real detoxification is provided in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances — usually when there are dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or other poisons in the body. Drugs used for real detoxification are not ingredients in a smoothie.

Detox is a legitimate medical term co-opted by quacks to sell useless products & services. Real detoxification isn’t ordered at a juice bar. It is provided in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances.Click To Tweet

Still with me?

Thing is, these “teatoxes,” aside from making you piss and sh*t all day long, often recommend that you improve your diet to, you know, “synergistically enhance the effects of the teatox.”

And I won’t argue, eating better is definitely a good thing and is precisely what any responsible health professional would recommend. But you don’t need to waste your money on overpriced laxatives and diuretics to achieve good health.

Bottom line

Stay alert and don’t fall for the cutesy teatox advertising or the photoshopped Instagram pics. Remember, the business is money and the storefront is health.

Bullshiticus corpus wrapum golden unicornius

Body wraps.

Have you seen “those crazy wrap things?”

You know, the ones where you smear a herbal concoction over your fatty areas, cover yourself plastic wrap, and whammy, you’re thinner!?

I know, kinky right? But hey, who am I to judge…if you’re into that sort of thing?

body wraps weight loss

Yes, body wraps have been around for quite a number of years and, like bell bottom jeans and bad haircuts, this golden unicorn keeps coming back.

Can you really “melt away the fat” from those trouble spots with a body wrap?

In a word: no.

Fat doesn’t just melt away through the skin. You need to improve your eating habits and become more physically active.

Sure, you might “lose weight” or see brief cosmetic improvements from a body wrap. However, this is more of a temporary illusion than any lasting effect.

While you may see small reductions in scale weight or inches on the tape measure, the actual composition of your weight loss is not body fat.

By the very nature of being wrapped in plastic (and sometimes heated), you will “lose weight” through sweating and dehydration.

Bottom line

The concept of “spot reduction” has long since been debunked. You cannot melt away fat through the skin. Once you leave the spa and consume food and water, you will replace what you lost in sweat weight.

For more information on body wraps, please see my general body wraps article It Works wraps review.

Bullshiticus Instagramicum gurus golden unicornius

I’ve been doing consumer advocacy work in the health space for well over two decades now and never in my entire career have I seen a bigger cesspool of health misinformation than on Instagram.

I’ll admit, Facebook and Twitter are quite prolific on the douchebaggery scale, but Instagram is a particularly onerous place for someone looking for reliable, trustworthy, and responsible health information.

What do I mean?

Think all of the above: teatoxes, 28-day fitness challenges, diets, fake testimonials, airbrushed images, micro-targeted advertising. It’s all there, on your phone, in your face, in 3D, in full colour.

If you’re a a teenage girl or young adult woman reading this, please know that Instagram is a great place to inspire an eating disorder (#fitspo). It has been studied and linked to poor mental health outcomes.

First, in the quest to rise above the social static and noise, Instagrammers are going to great lengths to image craft and mould their feeds. What you’re seeing is not reality. It’s a carefully coordinated effort to enhance their “personal branding” and social influence.

Second, the “health advice” your getting is, in most cases, questionable. “Influencers” are now getting paid to say a “teatox” was the secret to their success. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

Third, the images you see are often distortions of reality. Some Instagrammers have had surgery, botox, and treatments to make them look like a top-heavy mannequin. The photos are often professionally done, with certain looks accomplished by altering angles, using different lighting, playing with after-effects filters, or, if all else fails, airbrushing in Photoshop.

Aside from social media’s distorted aesthetics, sometimes information can be downright, well, just plain idiotic.

Last year, a young Australian “health coach” named Olivia Budgen when down in a media firestorm for saying that “cancer and disease is your body trying to save you.”

Olivia Budgen Insta Muppet - golden unicorn

She eventually deleted the Instagram post under intense media scrutiny. Then, in a so-called apology video on YouTube, Olivia blamed everyone else for misunderstanding her. To add insult to injury, she doubled down and had the audacity to spruik her ebooks below the video.

Olivia Budgen YouTube fake apology

In the video, she cited a well-known cancer quack as the source of her comments. Based on her responses to comments, the only thing she appeared to be sorry for was getting called out (below).

Olivia Budgen fake Youtube "apology"

Bottom line

Social media has given a platform and voice to everyone, irrespective of whether or not they’re qualified to give health advice.

If your Instagram feed is plastered with “detoxes,” “cleanses,” “fat-burner” supplements, and 28-day fitness challenges, then you need to unfollow your #fitspo “experts” and “gurus” and follow reputable health professionals instead.

Closing thoughts

Yeah, I know. I sound like the drunk uncle at Christmas time telling the kids there’s no Santa Claus. And sometimes I feel like it too.

Maybe it’s not what you WANT to hear, but it’s certainly what you NEED to hear.

You don’t have to like it either, but sticking your head in the sand and continuing to pretend long-term health comes in a cutesy “teatox” or “fat burner” pill is only going to keep you from achieving safe, sound, and lasting health changes.

I know there’s always that little sliver of hope in the back of your mind, hoping that one of those golden unicorns will work.

But I’ve worked in the health field for a LONG time and I have never, not even once, seen someone attain and maintain good health and body weight by following bad advice and using gimmicks.

Now, having said that, repeat after me:

“Bill, even though I think you’re a smug, sarcastic a$$hole, I will accept your challenge by trading my golden unicorn for more veggies and walking!”

SkinnyMint Teatox Review | A Detox from Toxic Marketing

SkinnyMint Teatox Review | A Detox from Toxic Marketing

If you’re a woman between 18 and 44 years of age, then you’ve no doubt seen SkinnyMint Teatox ads in your social feeds – over and over and over again.

Chances are, you’re being regularly micro-targeted until maybe, just maybe, you start to believe that “detox” comes in a tea.

If so, then you really need to read this article.

There are lots of grandiose marketing claims floating around cyberspace, much of it downright confusing, and some of it simply deceptive.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to:

  • Explain what SkinnyMint Teatox is;
  • Break down the ingredients and their effects on your body;
  • Evaluate and discuss the veracity of the marketing claims;
  • Discuss side effects and safety concerns; and
  • Provide a closing summary of the facts

What is SkinnyMint Teatox?

According to the company website, the 28 Day Ultimate Teatox is a two-step morning and night tea detox program:

The Morning Boost is designed to give you a boost throughout the day and start the morning right. It contains Green Tea, Yerba Mate and Guarana with a naturally sweet fruity taste. It can replace your daily morning coffee/black tea.

The Night Cleanse is designed to naturally purify the body which could lead to reduced bloating. It contains all natural ingredients to promote the restoration process. It is the perfect bedtime ritual, take one every alternate night.”

Right, so what the heck is in it anyway?

SkinnyMint ingredients list 

There are a lot of “teatoxes” out on the market these days and it’s important to think safety first and spend the time investigating a product’s ingredients before putting it in your body.

I’ve done most of the legwork for you below and have included links to more detailed information.

Morning boost ingredients

SkinnyMint Teatox Review

Credit: SkinnyMint website

Green tea leaf

Green tea contains a small amount of caffeine which might give you a feeling of pep in your step and help suppress appetite.

Yerba mate leaf

Yerba mate leaf is a caffeine-containing central nervous system stimulant. It might make you feel more mentally alert and can bump up your heart rate and blood pressure. Note: if you have any underlying heart problems, talk to your doctor before taking this product.

Nettle leaf

Nettle leaf, also known as stinging nettle, has a diuretic and laxative effect in the body.

Dandelion leaf

Dandelion leaf may exert a diuretic (makes you pee) and laxative effect to increase bowel movements. It may also increase appetite.

Guarana seed

Guarana contains the central nervous system stimulants caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine. Similar to yerba mate, guarana can jack up your heart rate and blood pressure.

Night cleanse ingredients

SkinnyMint Teatox Review

Credit: SkinnyMint website

Senna leaf 

Senna‘s active constituents are called sennosides which stimulate the bowel and causes a laxative effect.

Ginger root

Ginger may exert a laxative effect on the body by stimulating the bowels and may be useful for upset stomach, gas, and diarrhoea. It may also promote fluid loss as a diuretic. Ginger might also stimulate appetite which may counter other ingredients in the teas that decrease appetite.

Orange leaf 

Orange leaves may exert a mild laxative effect on the body.

Lemongrass leaf

Lemongrass leaf may help improve digestive tract spasms and relieve stomach aches.

Peppermint leaf

Peppermint leaf may be helpful for digestive problems such as heartburn, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome. Depending on the dose, it could have a laxative effect on the body.

Licorice root

Licorice root may help people with irritable bowel syndrome by soothing inflamed tissue, helping to relax muscles, and exerting a mild laxative effect on the bowels.

Hawthorn berry

Hawthorn berry is known to be a potent diuretic (which makes you pee) and may have value in patients with congestive heart failure by reducing water retention.

Psyllium seed

Psyllium seed is a bulk-forming laxative which soaks up water in your large intestines to make bowel movements easier.

Categorical review of SkinnyMint marketing claims

SkinnyMint claims that its teatox “reduces bloat and boosts energy,” is “designed for real results in 28 days,” and is an “all natural cleansing formula.”

If you’re trying to “lose weight” then this might be music to your eyes, but before you pull out your credit card, you need to first consider the phrasing and what it means to you versus what the product can actually deliver.

SkinnyMint Teatox Review

Claim 1: “Reduces bloat and boosts energy*

I’ll break this up into two parts for clarity.

“Reduces bloat”

This is where the marketing sleight of hand comes into play. It’s not what you’re being told but instead what you’re led to believe – or can make yourself believe.

First, the company does not specifically define what they mean by the term “bloat.” Bloat is plastered across a lot of different weight loss products these days and can mean a lot of different things to different people. Does it mean fat? Water retention? Glycogen storage?

In looking at the website, the company is very careful not to explicitly make weight loss (or fat loss) claims because that would be illegal.

No problem. Break out the testimonials.

At the bottom of the page, there are a number of before and after pictures of different women claiming the product did indeed result in weight loss specifically as a result of using the product (without mentioning which diet and exercise changes they made).

SkinnyMint Teatox Testimonials

Credit: SkinnyMint website

Taking on board the SkinnyMint’s vague claims and the more explicit testimonials, a reasonable person looking at the website in its entirety might assume that “bloat” means fat. And by using this teatox, it will result in bloat (fat/weight) loss.

So can SkinnyMint cause fat loss? Highly unlikely. As with all “teatox” programs, they are full of both diuretics and laxatives which will result in “weight loss” in the form of urine and feces. But as a stand alone product, it is not likely to result in any noticeable change in body fat.

If you are restricting your calorie intake and doing more exercise than you were before, then you will lose stored body fat. If this happens to occur in conjunction with taking a teatox product, then you might fool yourself into thinking your fat loss was solely the result of drinking a tea – instead of all your hard work.

To wrap up this point, I cannot stress this enough when I say there IS a difference between “weight loss” and “fat loss.” Anyone can “lose weight” by starving themselves or downing diuretic- and laxative-laden teas, but losing fat safely and effectively, and keeping it off, is something that happens slowly over time.

Read my article on 13 fat loss principles for losing fat and keeping it off.

“Boosts energy”

This claim is misleading because “boosts energy” is not well-defined and can also mean different things to different people.

The product contains only 2 calories per teabag so it clearly has no caloric energy value in the way food has energy (i.e., carbohydrates: 4 calories/gram, protein: 4 calories/gram, fat: 9 calories/gram).

To be more accurate, the “energy” you’re getting from SkinnyMint is not actually energy at all. It is simply a stimulant effect from some of the caffeine-containing ingredients which may make you feel more alert.

Claim 2: “Designed for real results in 28 days*

This claim begets more questions. First, what does SkinnyMint mean by “real results?” Are they talking about weight loss? Fat loss? How much weight loss or fat loss?

And second, why 28 days? Why not 27 or 29 days?

Where did SkinnyMint come up with this number? Is it based on research? Is it just cutesy marketing similar to those 28 day fitness challenges?

I conducted a search of the biomedical databases and was unable to locate any scientific research on SkinnyMint.

It would be helpful if the company was more specific and transparent in its claims.

Claim 3: “All natural cleansing formula”

Just more vague and meaningless marketing bluster. First, “all natural” is yet another one of those marketing terms that means different things to different people.

In some readers’ eyes, “all natural” means safe and effective (as opposed to those “drugs” pushed by evil pharmaceutical cartels). However, this is not always the case and even “natural” remedies can have health risks too (can I interest you in a delicious cup of all natural hemlock, arsenic, and cobra venom tea?).

And what, specifically, does SkinnyMint mean by a “cleansing formula.” What is it actually “cleansing?” Is it “cleansing” your liver or any other organ?

To be clear, there is no such thing as “detoxing” or “cleansing,” as Scott Gavura points out in an article on Science-Based Medicine:

“Detox” is a legitimate medical term that has been co-opted to sell useless products and services. It is a fake treatment for a fake condition. Real detoxification isn’t ordered from a menu at a juice bar, or assembled from supplies in your pantry. Real detoxification is provided in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances — usually when there are dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or other poisons in the body. Drugs used for real detoxification are not ingredients in a smoothie.

Damn you pesky asterisk!

And what about that pesky asterisk (*) after the claim? According to the SkinnyMint website:

*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Results may vary from person to person and are not guaranteed.

English translation: “yes we’re kinda sorta making claims but not really, the FDA hasn’t reviewed our claims, and your “results,” whatever they may or may not be, may vary.”

SkinnyMint side effects and risks

SkinnyMint and other teatox products on the market are unlikely to cause harm when used as directed (and for the short term). But side effects are always a possibility.

Dehydration

First, senna leaves and a number of other ingredients in the tea exert a laxative effect on the body that could lead to diarrhoea and possibly dehydration, particularly if you are consuming a lot of the tea and leaving the bag in the water for longer than recommended.

Electrolyte imbalances and nutrient deficiencies

Second, the combined diuretic effect of many of the ingredients could further promote dehydration. If you have diarrhoea, then it could further hasten dehydration and contribute to a dangerous electrolyte imbalance and nutrient deficiencies. Moreover, if you are dieting and exercising a lot, this can hasten dehydration.

Low blood pressure

Third, if you have cardiovascular disease and are taking medications that promote fluid loss, then the tea could have a compounding effect which might further lower your blood pressure and make you susceptible to dizziness and fainting. Please consult your doctor if you have high blood pressure or any other cardiovascular disease.

Reduction in birth control effectiveness

Fourth, you should know that the laxative effect of these “teatoxes” can reduce the effectiveness of your birth control pills, particularly if you take your pills within 4 to 5 hours of using the tea.

Reduction in bowel movements

Fifth, the tea should be used for the short term. Long term use could result in your body adapting to the laxative which may lead to a reduction in bowel motility (leading to intestinal paralysis, lazy gut, and irritable bowel syndrome) and make you dependent on the tea for normal bowel movements. If you’re having problems with your bowel movements after using the tea, you should consult your doctor for further evaluation.

Weight loss abuse

Sixth, because the teas promote “weight loss” through increased urine and feces loss, consumers obsessed with quick-fix weight loss products may be at higher risk for abuse. If you’re the parent of a teen with body image issues, you should pay particular attention to their use of the products.

How much does SkinnyMint Teatox cost?

If you’re looking to buy SkinnyMint, it isn’t cheap. It will cost you about $55 US dollars and $70 dollars in Australia if you buy it on their website. I’ve also seen it sold on Amazon at higher and lower price points.

Return / refund policy

There is a return policy, but there’s also a catch.

According to the website, you can return your order within 60 days of purchase, but it must be unopened and in the original packaging.

So if you try the product and don’t like it or get the “results” you were expecting, then tough luck, no refund for you.

If SkinnyMint wants to put its money where its mouth is, then they should be willing to offer refunds to unsatisfied customers.

Bottom line: Should you buy SkinnyMint Teatox?

I hate having to be the jerk that ruins all the fun, but please allow me to smack you in the face with a wet fish and state unequivocally that there is no such thing as a “detox tea” except perhaps in name and branding only.

Let’s be clear that the word “detox” and its taxonomic offspring “teatox” are marketing terms and have no scientific basis.

Neither SkinnyMint nor any other “teatox” on the market causes fat loss. If you’re expecting to lose fat with the product alone (without eating less and exercising), then you will be disappointed.

If you’re expecting to “lose weight,” the laxatives and diuretics will do that, but you can expect to gain it all back when you stop using the product.

Bottom line: if you insist on using this product, then make sure you do not have any underlying health issues and use it only for the short term (for reasons I listed in side effects and risks).

Cockroach Milk: Superfood or Super Clickbait Headline?

Cockroach Milk: Superfood or Super Clickbait Headline?

Cockroach milk.

Ewwwww WT serious F?! I know. Exactly what I was thinking.

But there it was, cockroach milk, in the headlines, in all its glory, churning through this week’s international news cycle.

COCKROACH MILK! SUPERFOOD! HIGH IN PROTEIN!

I’ll admit the daily tsunami of bulls*t “health” headlines barely makes me raise an eyebrow these days <snore>, but this one actually caught my attention for at least 10 seconds. Ok, maybe 11 seconds.

I posted the article to my Facebook page with the question, “would you try it?” Every person who left a comment, bar none, said no, hell no, f*ck no, and every other graphical iteration of f*ck no.

cockroach milk gagging

Despite western cultural biases, there is a growing interest in insect farming as a sustainable food source, with numerous research studies now appearing in this space.

I figured I’d put aside my cultural ignorance <gag!> and take a serious look at the science and nutrition behind cockroach milk, and then compare it to the latest media headlines.

What is cockroach milk?

Cockroach milk is derived from the brood sac of the viviparous Diploptera punctata cockroach (or Pacific beetle cockroach) which provides nourishment to embryos during gestation. “Viviparous” refers to the embryos receiving milk BEFORE birth as compared to mammals which provide milk to offspring after birth.

Cockroach milk research

Despite the overly optimistic headlines, there really isn’t much research to support the superfood claims. I found only three barely relevant studies, one from 1977one from 2004 and another from 2016, with the latter mentioned frequently in news stories.

Study 1: Banerjee et al 2016

In the most recent 2016 study published in the International Union of Crystallography Journal (IUCrJ), researchers at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, India looked at the chemical composition and structure of the milk with a few passing comments on its nutritive value for cockroach embryos (not humans).

The authors clearly stated: “a single crystal of cockroach milk is estimated to contain more than three times the energy of an equivalent mass of dairy milk.”

Translation: it has three times the amount of calories per equivalent weight of bog standard dairy milk.

However, a recent news.com.au article blew this out of proportion and erroneously stated the milk was “actually one of the most nutritious substances on Earth, containing three times the equivalent mass of buffalo’s milk” and that “it’s also more environmentally-friendly than dairy or almond milk.”

Um, no. I read the research study. That’s not what it said. At all.

Nowhere in the published study did the authors state it was the most “nutritious substance on Earth,” that it was “three times heavier than buffalo’s milk,” that it was more “environmentally-friendly than dairy or almond milk,” nor that was even fit for human consumption.

Study 2: Williford et al 2004

A second study from 2004 by Willford and colleagues at the University of Iowa investigated the genes that encode proteins found in cockroach milk, identified the amino acid composition of these proteins, and discussed the association to the evolutionary adaptation of viviparity.

As in the Bangalore study, nowhere in the study do the authors make any reference to the benefits of cockroach milk for human consumption.

Have a look at the PubMed abstract or the full length article in PDF and decide for yourself.

Study 3: Ingram et al 1977

An early study out of the University of Iowa looking at the composition of cockroach milk found it contained 45% protein, 5% amino acids, 25% carbohydrate, and 16 to 22% lipid. But again, no mention of the milk for human nutrition.

Is cockroach milk a nutritious superfood?

Easy question. Yes, if you’re a cockroach embryo.

Despite the headlines, you can’t buy cockroach milk at your local Paleo cafe, nor are Hollywood celebrities touting it as a youthful elixir (yet). But hey, give Gwyneth Paltrow enough time and she just might spruik it on her quacky Goop website, right next to the jade eggs for your vagina.

So yes, it is technically true that research shows cockroach milk is high in protein, and low to moderate in carbohydrate and fat content, but there is no evidence that it’s good for human consumption above and beyond normal supermarket food.

And what about safety? There is no scientific evidence yet that the substance is safe for humans.

And finally, extracting cockroach milk would likely be a massively tedious and time consuming process, possibly making it difficult to be financially viable. The substance would likely have to be synthesised and bulk produced in a lab (if feasible). Watch this space.

Bottom line

Cockroach milk has been bandied about as a “superfood” and, while it might be “nutritious” when viewed strictly from a chemical composition standpoint in a lab – under an electron microscope – there are no studies yet on the human consumption of cockroach milk on any given health parameter.

As of this writing cockroach milk is just a hypothetical what-if. The headlines which churned and burned through the recent news cycle were just bullish*t clickbait with no substance. The writers of these stories appear to have piggy-backed a load of bad and poorly interpreted scientific information and twisted it into something it was clearly not (see my article on the media distorting health messages).

There is no such thing as a “superfood” and no single food is the holy grail. The healthiest diets include a wide variety of food choices in order to safely provide a full array of nutrients.

But hey, if you want to suck on the bottom of a pregnant cockroach, then knock yourself out!

References

  1. Banerjee S, Coussens NP, Gallat FX, et al. Structure of a heterogeneous, glycosylated, lipid-bound, in vivo-grown protein crystal at atomic resolution from the viviparous cockroach Diploptera punctata. IUCrJ. 2016 Jun 27;3 (Pt 4):282-93. doi: 10.1107/S2052252516008903. eCollection 2016 Jul 1. [abstract] [PDF]
  2. Williford A, Stay B, Bhattacharya D. Evolution of a novel function: nutritive milk in the viviparous cockroach, Diploptera punctata. Evol Dev. 2004 Mar-Apr;6(2):67-77.[abstract] [PDF]
  3. M.J.Ingram, B.Stay, G.D.Cain. Composition of milk from the viviparous cockroach, Diploptera punctata. Insect Biochemistry. Volume 7, Issue 3, 1977, Pages 257-267 [abstract]
  4. Science Direct. Various insect farming studies [view list]